Report: UC Berkeley Botched Responses to November Protests

BERKELEY, Calif.—The University of California, Berkeley’s civilian Police Review Board claims that university leaders and campus police made serious errors and missed numerous opportunities to prevent a violent confrontation during the Nov. 20, 2009 protest that led to the arrests of 46 demonstrators.

A 128-page report from the board says that administrators failed to communicate with students and take their plans seriously, thus failing to anticipate the level of the civil disobedient protest.

The demonstration by students, faculty, staff and members of the general public was in response to the UC system raising student fees and laying off employees as a result of budget cuts. Dozens of students barricaded themselves inside Wheeler Hall, while as many as 2,000 people protested outside. Video showed police dressed in riot gear, using barricades and batons to shove hostile demonstrators or smash their hands, according to the San Francisco Gate.

The review board also held protesters accountable. The review suggests that for the most part, protesters were civil and essentially leaderless, which made it difficult for administration and police to communicate with them and respond to their demands. Furthermore, a “smaller, more calculating (but perhaps no less sincere) group set out to instigate confrontations with the police,” according to the report.

Additionally, the report says the police department was inexperienced and understaffed and had no practical plan for dealing with such a large crowd of demonstrators. Furthermore, the review faulted administration and the police department for delays in communication before and during the protest.

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Associate Vice Chancellor Ron Coley, who oversees the campus police department, asked the independent Police Review Board – an eight-member board comprised of students, faculty and a retired police chief – to investigate the protest immediately after the incident.

For its part, the UC Berkeley Police Department acknowledged its errors during the demonstration, citing that the department mainly focused on the students inside Wheeler Hall instead of the huge number of angry protesters outside.

The report also offered a long list of recommendations for the university, which focuses on improved coordination, planning and communication.

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